Photos, videos: Community mourns loss of slain Ohio SWAT officer

Steven M. Smith was a 27-year veteran and was the 54th Columbus officer to die in the line of duty since 1816

By Theodore Decker
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As expressions of sympathy poured in from across the country, as Columbus police officers dealt with grief, anger and disbelief, Pamela Hamilton watched her grandchildren kneel and pray Wednesday afternoon for an officer they had never met.

Dakota Cochran, 10, and his 7-year-old twin sisters, Abigail and Allison, each placed a small bouquet of flowers on the Columbus Police Memorial in Genoa Park, where flags at half-staff for SWAT Officer Steven M. Smith snapped in the wind.

Hamilton, 63, of the Far West Side, said she prayed for Smith when she heard he had been shot Sunday during a standoff with a gunman in Clintonville. When she learned Tuesday evening that he had died, she prayed for his family.

“This one hit me real bad,” she said. “I can’t say why. He gave his all for us ... to keep my kids, my grandkids safe.”

Police said Smith was the 54th Columbus officer to die in the line of duty since 1816.

He was among the SWAT officers who had gone to an apartment in the first block of California Avenue to arrest Lincoln Rutledge, a 44-year-old man wanted on an aggravated arson warrant. A website devoted to fallen U.S. officers said Smith was riding in the turret of an armored vehicle when he was hit in the head by a round Rutledge fired. It slipped through a gunport in the turret's shield. Several local sources confirmed that.

Smith was a 27-year veteran who did a little bit of everything for the Police Division along the way. He flew helicopters, swam with the dive team, seized drugs in the narcotics bureau and was wounded in 2013 when SWAT officers closed in on a murder suspect.

His family and fellow SWAT officers were not ready to talk publicly, a Police Division spokeswoman said. Funeral arrangements are pending, but services should be next week.

“We’ve experienced a wide range of emotions,” said Jason Pappas, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9. “You lose a friend, a partner. You go through emotions like, ‘Could it be me?’

“We’ve been inundated, and I guess I should say blessed, with a tremendous show of support from our brothers and sisters in blue, as well as our brother and sister firefighters and the public at large,” he said.

Under Ohio law, a person accused of purposely killing a law-enforcement officer while on duty can be indicted on a charge of murder with a death-penalty specification. Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said his office will do the same review it does for all potential death-penalty cases before determining whether to pursue that. Rutledge remains jailed without bond.

The most recent time a Columbus officer was fatally shot in the line of duty occurred in 2005, when Officer Bryan Hurst was killed while confronting a bank robber on the Far East Side. Suspect Daryl Lawrence was arrested, tried in federal court, and sentenced to death.

In 2011, former Columbus Police Officer Thomas Hayes died of complications from gunshot injuries sustained while on duty 31 years earlier. He was shot in 1979 by a 16-year-old boy he was taking into custody for a curfew violation.

Smith died Tuesday at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Officers Fund, as of Wednesday, 32 officers had died in the line of duty this year in the United States. Thirty-one officers died during the same time period last year.



Copyright 2016 The Columbus Dispatch

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